Are Moral Truths a Product of Individual Belief?

For many of us, the transcendent, objective nature of moral truth seems rather self-evident. To “super-size” the point, all of us would agree it’s never morally acceptable to torture babies for the fun of it. For that matter, it’s never morally acceptable to torture anyone for the fun of it. This is a transcendent, objective moral truth claim; it applies to all of us, regardless of who we are, where we are on the planet, or when we’ve lived in history.

There are many similar transcendent, objective moral truths, even though groups often try to justify their seemingly immoral behaviors. In California, for example, there are several legal justifications for homicide. Police officers can use whatever force necessary—including deadly force—to overcome lethal resistance or to apprehend certain kinds of felons. Citizens can use whatever force is necessary—including deadly force—to stop a life-threatening attack or to protect the life of an innocent person. These are considered justified homicides (as opposed to unjustified homicides known as “murders”).

But it’s never been legal (nor morally acceptable) to kill someone for the fun of it. In fact, if you simply add the clarifying condition “for the fun of it” to any questionable moral behavior, you’ll discover yet another transcendent, objective moral principle: it’s never morally acceptable to lie for the fun of it, to cheat for the fun of it, or to steal for the fun of it. While you might offer some appropriate defense for engaging in these behaviors, their justification will require more than your personal enjoyment. Humans throughout history have recognized the universal, transcendent, objective nature of a variety of moral codes, even though some behaviors can be defended under certain circumstances.

GCS Chapter 07 Illustration 02

Illustration from God’s Crime Scene

In a similar way, there are a number of transcendent, objective moral virtues accepted by humans throughout history, even though these are also sometimes nuanced by circumstances. As Oxford scholar C. S. Lewis said, “Men have differed as regards what people you ought to be unselfish to—whether it was only your own family, or your fellow countrymen, or everyone. But they have always agreed that you ought not to put yourself first. Selfishness has never been admired.”

But how are we to account for the objective, transcendent moral truths we recognize in our universe? In my new book, God’s Crime Scene, I ask the simple question we ask at every potential crime scene: “Can all the evidence we see ‘inside the room’ be explained from ‘inside the room’?” if we apply this question to the existence of objective moral truth, we must ask, “Can we explain the existence of objective moral truth ‘inside the room’ of the natural universe by staying ‘inside the room’ for an answer?”

Some naturalistic philosophers, in an effort to explain moral truth from “inside the room” of the universe, believe all moral truth is subjective rather than objective. In other words, subjects (people) are the ultimate source of what is “right” or “wrong.” According to this view, termed “moral subjectivism,” morality varies from person to person. Moral beliefs are based primarily on our subjective feelings, and because these attitudes are specific to each of us individually, they cannot be fairly assumed in others; they are simply personal opinions.

In addition, people often disagree about the moral status of a particular action or situation, and these disagreements are often irreconcilable. Moral subjectivists offer this as yet another reason to reject the existence of objective moral truth. While this does explain morality from “inside the room” of the universe (rooted in the individuals who live here), it lacks explanatory power:

This Approach Overestimates the Value of Feelings
The cause of a belief doesn’t always have much to do with whether or not the belief is true. There are often times when I call an arrestee’s mother to notify her of her son’s arrest. Some moms in this situation refuse to believe their kids could do anything wrong. Many even try to justify their son’s behavior and reject the “wrongness” of his actions. When my arrestee’s mothers refuse to see anything wrong with their sons’ behavior, do these maternal feelings preclude us from making a decision about whether or not their sons committed an immoral act? No. Feelings may follow from moral realities but we have to be careful not to allow feelings to dictate moral realities.

This Approach Eliminates Moral Debate
If moral subjectivism is true, people who disagree about the moral status of an act (as my arrestee’s moms and I might disagree), would be unable to argue for the rightness of their position. If these moms and I are the final individual determiners of what is right or wrong, none of us could appeal to anything higher than our own opinion to settle a moral disagreement. How could I think my position related to any crime was superior to the mothers of my arrestees? All of us would be grounding our moral decisions in the same level of authority: our personal authority. If morality is subjective, no one has the right to say he or she is morally correct or someone else is morally incorrect.

This Approach Leads to Moral Selfishness
If individuals are the source of all moral truth, what stops us from simply pursuing our own self-interests? In fact, ethical “egoists” believe each of us has a moral duty to advance what’s in one’s own long-term best interest. As a cold-case homicide detective, I can certainly testify to the selfishness I’ve seen in the humans I’ve arrested over the years. But I’m not the only one to observe this. Evolutionary biologist George Williams has chronicled the selfish behavior represented throughout the animal kingdom. If moral truth is rooted in the beliefs and opinions of subjects, why should anyone care about anyone other than himself or his own family or tribe?

Moral subjectivism leads to a worldview in which such altruism makes little or no moral sense. If this kind of subjectivism is true, we live in a “dog eat dog,” “survival of the fittest” world. Selfless duty makes little or no sense in such a world. Why should I, as a police officer, risk my life and the future of my family to help others? As philosopher Louis Pojman once wrote, “Subjectivism treats individuals like billiard balls on a societal pool table where they meet only in radical collisions, each aimed at his or her own goal and striving to do in the others before they themselves are done in.”

Moral subjectivism simply cannot explain the existence of objective, transcendent moral truths. Worse yet, these kinds of moral truths are not mere brute facts about the universe, they’re not a product of culture, and they’re not a result of human biology or evolution. The best explanation for these kinds of moral truths (and obligations) is the existence of a transcendent, objective, personal moral law giver. This short blog is an excerpt from God’s Crime Scene. For more information and detail related to this topic, refer to Chapter Seven – Law and Order: Is Morality More Than An Opinion?

J. Warner Wallace is a Cold-Case Detective, a Christian Case Maker, and the author of Cold-Case Christianity and God’s Crime Scene.

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24 replies
  1. Andy Ryan says:

    “But how are we to account for the objective, transcendent moral truths we recognize in our universe?”

    You’ve not shown these truths exist – it’s not enough to say we ‘recognize’ rather than simple ‘claim they exist’.

    “This Approach Overestimates the Value of Feelings”
    Your evidence for their existence is that you ‘feel’ that they do.

    “This Approach Eliminates Moral Debate”
    No it doesn’t. Debates start with a shared premise and then progresses as each side present their case for how their view best meets that shared premise.

    “If moral subjectivism is true, people who disagree about the moral status of an act (as my arrestee’s moms and I might disagree), would be unable to argue for the rightness of their position”

    You don’t have a moral debate with the mom – it comes down to the law, and laws are ultimately set up by the citizens to protect society. If the mom’s kid is going round burning schools then it is society’s interest to stop him. The mom’s opinion is irrelevant regardless of whether moral subjectivism is true or not.

    “This Approach Leads to Moral Selfishness”

    That has nothing to do with whether it’s true or not, even if we allow your premise (and I’d dispute it anyway).

    “Moral subjectivism simply cannot explain the existence of objective, transcendent moral truths.”

    Again, you’ve not demonstrated that existence, merely claimed it. Neither have you explained or shown how the existence of a God would necessarily or even possibly lead to the existence of objective, transcendent moral truths.

    “they’re not a product of culture”

    I clicked on the link to your article on this claim – none shows that it’s not a product of culture. One of your arguments against it is that if it WAS a product of culture, that would mean you don’t get to declare that one culture is better than another. This isn’t an argument for your position, it’s just a consequence that you don’t like about another position.

    Reply
    • Jeremy says:

      Andy

      “You’ve not shown these truths exist – it’s not enough to say we ‘recognize’ rather than simple ‘claim they exist’.”

      Do they exist?

      “Your evidence for their existence is that you ‘feel’ that they do.”

      No what he is saying is that they exist regardless of how he feels about them.

      “You don’t have a moral debate with the mom – it comes down to the law, and laws are ultimately set up by the citizens to protect society. If the mom’s kid is going round burning schools then it is society’s interest to stop him. The mom’s opinion is irrelevant regardless of whether moral subjectivism is true or not.”

      Laws that are subject to a specific society does nothing to prove that I should accept those laws as objective, as the laws could be subject to change and may well fit my position better, rather than the society’sposition later on down the road.

      Reply
      • Andy Ryan says:

        “No what he is saying is that they exist regardless of how he feels about them.”

        But he also offers no evidence for their existence other than that he feels they exist. Read the article and tell me what evidence he offers for the existence of objective moral laws. What’s your OWN evidence for their existence?

        “Laws that are subject to a specific society does nothing to prove that I should accept those laws as objective”

        I didn’t say they did.

        Reply
        • Jeremy says:

          Andy

          But he also offers no evidence for their existence other than that he feels they exist. Read the article and tell me what evidence he offers for the existence of objective moral laws. What’s your OWN evidence for their existence?

          I would say that hes not arguing for the existence of these truths based on feeling, hes arguing from the experience that some things are really wrong no matter who does them. From a theistic perspective, atheism cannot justify what is good or bad. Based on what you say ” The mom’s opinion is irrelevant regardless of whether moral subjectivism is true or not.” how is her opinion not relevant if its all subjective, morals go out the window. you are unable to say one person or a group of people’s opinion is more relvenat than hers if there isnt an objective truth to measure the opinions against. At which point you cant appeal to a law of the land and act as though they hold some kind of inherent truth to them as it is opinion of a people and for you to force a law on somebody that doesnt agree with it, is well…. what some would say God does to people in the Bible. If it is true that morals are subjective then they are not objective, thats the proof. the only morals that exist are the ones you dream up for your own well being, thats the selfish part.

          Reply
          • Andy Ryan says:

            “Hes arguing from the experience that some things are really wrong no matter who does them”

            By ‘experience’ you mean ‘feeling’. He just ‘feels’ that some things are really wrong. The only way he ‘experiences’ this is as a feeling.

            My point stands, Jeremy.

          • Jeremy says:

            Andy

            “By ‘experience’ you mean ‘feeling’. He just ‘feels’ that some things are really wrong. The only way he ‘experiences’ this is as a feeling.”

            This is only true if it is true that morals do not exist, if they dont then there is nothing to experience and you are right. If they are true then when I experience them it is seperate from the feeling I get when I experience them. So do morals exist?

        • Andy Ryan says:

          “This is only true if it is true that morals do not exist”

          No Jeremy, the argument he makes is the argument he makes. The experience he’s talking about is a feeling – this is true whether or not objective moral truths exist. Either way, the evidence he offers for them is his feelings. He feels they do, and he points to other people feeling they do too.

          Regardless of whether or not moral truths exist, he’s not offering a great argument, and he criticises ‘moral subjectivists’ with the line: “This Approach Overestimates the Value of Feelings”, despite the fact that his own evidence boils down to ‘feelings’.

          Reply
          • Andy Ryan says:

            I’m saying he accuses the other side of ‘overestimating the value of feelings’ when the only evidence he offers himself is ‘feelings’.

            Do you have anything to say anything to argue against this?

            NB: any answer I give with regards to my own position on objective morality has no bearing on whether his argument holds up.

          • Jeremy says:

            Andy

            But thats what I’m trying to say and ask. He makes the claim that morals are outside of us and exist whether we believe them or not. I understand what your saying which is that he is appealing to feeling also when claiming that morals exist outside of us. But isnt it true that he is getting rid of his feeling when he says that they exist outside of him and his feelings about them have no power as to whether they exist or does he have to prove it empiraclly.

          • Andy Ryan says:

            “But isnt it true that he is getting rid of his feeling when he says that they exist outside of him and his feelings about them have no power as to whether they exist or does he have to prove it empirically.”

            Jeremy, he’s making a claim for which he doesn’t really provide any evidence beyond that he feels it to be true.

            He goes on to claim this – his feelings – is evidence of God. He dismisses counter-arguments that present non-God answers. One of the grounds on which he dismisses them is that it puts too much stock in ‘feelings’. I don’t really know what else one can say about it – he virtually critiques and dismisses his own argument!

            “if we only feel that morals exist does that mean that they exist”

            He’s specifically claiming that ‘moral truths’ or ‘objective morality’ exists. If we defined morality as the obligations that we collectively FEEL exists, then certainly morality obviously exists. If he wants to claim that morality is something else, something beyond our feelings – something more like, say, the value of Pi or the angles of an equilateral triangle – then yes it would help his claim if he offered something beyond our feelings as evidence. After all, we can measure the value of Pi – that certainly exists beyond our feelings, right?

          • Andy Ryan says:

            What do you think? I’m willing to hear arguments from both side. I’m not convinced by ‘We need God for numbers/logic” to exist. It suggests that if God didn’t exist 1+1 would equal something other than 2. Not sure how that is supposed to work…

          • Jeremy says:

            Andy

            “It suggests that if God didn’t exist 1+1 would equal something other than 2. Not sure how that is supposed to work…”

            1.I would say that if God doesn’t exist then the statement doesn’t really exist. 2. Just because God doesn’t exist, doesn’t mean that the statement 1+1= 2 is wrong it just doesn’t have any true meaning. you go on operating everyday without the belief in God but still believe 1+1=2 right. But would the statement exist if you didn’t think of it?

          • Andy Ryan says:

            “I would say that if God doesn’t exist then the statement doesn’t really exist.”

            That’s an assertion you’d need to justify.

            “it just doesn’t have any true meaning”

            Why not?

            “But would the statement exist if you didn’t think of it?”

            I guess someone else could think of it. I’m not sure what you mean by would it exist if NO-ONE thought of it. 1+1 WOULD still equal 2 even if no-one was around the think or it or recognise the fact. Even if we agree it would actually be meaningless, that doesn’t mean a God exists.

            At any rate, I’ve pointed out several times why Wallace’s argument doesn’t work and you don’t seem to be defending it, so perhaps we can leave it there.

          • Jeremy says:

            Andy

            Im trying to defend him and his arguments by demonstrating that if things like numbers and morals are solely contingent upon a mind, and as I think you would agree they do not exist on their own they are merely useful fictions that we have concocted to understand our world. If they existed before our minds then that begs the question how did they exist before our minds.

            ” Even if we agree it would actually be meaningless, that doesn’t mean a God exists”

            True if the statement has no true meaning then there is no God, and we are left with nihilism if we are going to be intellectually honest which I can accept. But if there is true meaning in the statement then you would have to agree that the statement is contingent upon a mind which begs the question who’s mind

            “That’s an assertion you’d need to justify.”

            ok did the statement 1+1=2 exist before there was mind to recognize it as 1+1=2? if yes how do you know that.

          • toby says:

            ok did the statement 1+1=2 exist before there was mind to recognize it as 1+1=2? if yes how do you know that.

            No. Before minds there were no statements. We can retroactively claim that 1+1=2 was sensible before minds exist, but that doesn’t mean it existed prior to minds developing a language of quantification. If material objects existed prior to minds then there were quantities, but no mind around to develop a language or symbols (1+1=2!) to do anything with them.

    • tanner bryan says:

      You are basing your information off your world view as if it is the only answer. When you are constrained to a naturalistic world view you have to change definitions and assume that you cannot have objective morality.
      The problem is we do have a moral code so your answer is bs and the reason why you are forced to give an outlandish answer is because of a theist named G. E. Moore. He is the man that made a theory which proved no one can create a moral code in a purely material world. You cannot create a moral code because every time you try to create a moral you end up using a Naturalistic Fallacy. The fallacy happens when you get to your answer by just reversing your logic.
      an example would be; helping people is good (this time), thus it is good to help people. you can see how you will never be able to make a moral code or standard because if you help steel money from poor people (fits the code you created) it is not good.
      on top of the lies you pull out of no where you slap on things that are not even morals like laws in society. You are basically saying laws in society are your morals and Obama said it is OK to use drone strikes on the citizens. Some good reasoning you have there.

      Reply
      • Andy Ryan says:

        And you’ve got a bible that condones slavery. Some very poor reasoning you have there. You’ve not shown why having a moral code requires a God, or why having a God makes your code any better or more objective than an atheist’s. But if you come up with an argument to defend your position then I’d be delighted to read it.

        Reply
  2. Keith says:

    It sounds as if we are tripping over semantics when the real issues at hand is simply about the knowledge that human beings across our entire globe have basic knowledge about the concepts of right versus wrong. Where do the concepts of fairness come from? Where do we get a sense of what is normal or abnormal? Where do we acquire the knowledge that there is some sort of semblance to this world which has a definite right way of doing things? Is everything simply subjective and are we each defined by our environment, culture, and heritage? This line of thinking sounds solid but does it make sense? For example, have you ever heard of a place in this world where rape, incest or child abuse where openly accepted and popularized? Is there any country that we know of where stealing, murder or treason are looked upon as being subjective actions where a person is never held accountable for such crimes? If these things are inherently wrong, then where did we get the idea which tells us that these behaviors are not acceptable? There are some who say that we just instinctively know what is right and wrong because if the behavior does not benefit society then it is a learned concept handed down from one generation to the next. But do we really believe that an individual who was abandoned and left to grow up on some deserted island would turn out to be a free roaming rapist, murderer or pedophile simply because he or she missed out on the lessons of what benefits society?

    There are those in this world who carry a distorted and contorted view of how things should work but we can clearly point out those behaviors which are considered abnormal. Where do we get these skills in discerning rightness from wrongness? Even small children who have not been exposed to an educational system have this built in code of what is right and wrong. The main point here is that there is something at the core of humanity which serves as some sort of guide and directs our decision making toward a “rightness”.

    The next question has to be then if we do have an internal drive which pushes for rightness as opposed to wrongness then is it just something that is merely conventional which can change with the course of time? Or is this internal drive something more akin to a real truth which never changes regardless of time? From looking back over the course of human history what we know is that this internal drive has always existed and has never changed. Oh sure there have been cultures where torture, slavery and human sacrifices were accepted but these events usually occurred in the name of some religious or social belief system where a group of underclass people were not even considered to be real humans. So if you committed these wrongful crimes on someone you looked upon as more of an animal than a human then of course you could rationalize your behavior. But the reality of the rightness of things has been a core concept which has remained steady and sure over the course of time.

    It is analogous to a carpenter building a home. You don’t simply just grab some nails and a hammer to build a large structure. There are times when you need a hammer and times when you need a saw or drill or whatever. You cannot set up one tool as the tool of tools. There is no wrong or right tool we simply use one specific tool to complete this project and another type tool to finish the job. Our tool box in life, which carries all of our instincts, can only make sense, be constructive and turn into a sound structure if we follow the blue prints with the right tools as set by the carpenter. Tools in the hands of a child or a fool are highly unlikely to produce anything but chaos, confusion and danger. It takes the inner wisdom of this “rightness” to help make sense out of building a life which is forthright, productive and meaningful. If we ignore the carpenters plans and attempt to use whatever tool we wish when we feel like it then we will never accomplish our goal. Without the carpenters plan our life simply has no foundation, structure or meaning. When we step back and look at the completed structure we have been building our entire lives we may find that we have built nothing more than a leaning shack which has been pasted and hammered together by our own desires. If we ignore the plan and do not use the exact tools required we fail, falter and accomplish nothing. What is interesting is that when we do ignore the carpenters plan and go against what we know to be right we often attempt to rationalize or minimize the reasons we chose a different approach when our goals fail. So the basic premise that we are simply the sum of our instincts does not fit into humanity as it does with other species.

    Let me illustrate this phenomenon with a true story. My wife and I have a good friend that we have known since childhood. My wife has continued to stay in touch with this friend over the years and on one summer day our phone rang and my wife answered. I could tell by her demeanor that something was very wrong. She talked a while in a quiet and consoling voice and then hung up. I asked what was going on and she began to tell me of a situation that you would normally only find in a story or movie. Our friend, her husband and their two children had gone to the beach for a summer vacation. One day while they were at the beach a child began calling for help because he was being pulled out by a tide. The drowning child’s father quickly jumped in after his son but he was also pulled under by the tide. So our friend’s husband jumped into the water and saved the boy from drowning. He then went back into the water to save the boy’s father but was unable to get himself and the man out of danger. The boy’s father drowned and our friend’s husband was brought to shore unconscious. He never regained consciousness and the doctors informed our friend that he was brain dead and there needed to be a decision about terminating his life. It was eventually decided that there was no hope of recovery and he later died.

    I tell this story for several reasons. First it is a true story about courage and heroic strength that I personally pray I would have in the same situation. In fact, this story was aired on ABCs 20/20 several months later because the man that drowned was a correspondent of a major news organization. And they aired the story about our friend’s husband and the sacrifice he made to warn people about the dangers of rip tides. However, in relation to our current discussion why is it that a man would be willing to risk his life for others he did not know. Would you say that this was simply his “herd” instinct? It is true that we need our instincts to survive but it’s even more important to know that there is something which helps govern our decisions when acting on these instinctual drives. If we were simply responding to those instincts which are strictly led by nature, then all people would react in the same manner much like we see in the animal kingdom. But above and beyond our instinctual drives is that which serves as a guide which highlights those actions to take in the rightness of any given situation. But humanity, with its gift of free will does not always choose the “right” instinct. If that were the case, that we are simply the sum of our instinctual drives then life itself would follow a predictable pattern from one incident to another. But that is not what we find when we inspect the way we react to life’s threats and dangers. If all of us were simply programed to naturally respond with one kind of choice, regardless of right or wrong, you would assume that all people will react in the same way like wild animals do. But if you try to place this type of reaction into a real life situation this theory quickly falls apart.

    For example, why is it that on that horrible day at the beach when a cry for help was heard that the majority of people simply stood and watched while only a few were willing to risk their own lives. We know that most people that day chose to stay on the safety of the beach. Those who stood by and took pictures or pointed or just looked the other way were not evil individuals. They were simply giving in to the instinct of self-preservation even though their inner core was screaming to do something. And we all know that after the incident happened the majority of those who witnessed this tragedy were inwardly disgusted with themselves because they knew they had not followed what was right. And I bet if anyone had accused them of not doing the right thing that day they would have attempted to come up with some sort of excuse which would admonish them from their actions. Not because they were evil or stupid or dimwitted but because they failed to follow that universal truth which always screams at our inner core for rightness. So simply making the statement that we are the sum of our instincts is too simple of an explanation of why we are driven and compelled toward rightness. There is clearly something we find inside our own selves which has been guiding and directing humanity for centuries. The reality that we are pushed toward that which is right above everything else is not what is in dispute. The real question which demands an answer is who or what is behind this universal drive.

    Reply
  3. Keith says:

    It sounds as if we are tripping over semantics when the real issue at hand is simply about the fact that human beings across our entire globe have basic knowledge about the concepts of right versus wrong. Where do the concepts of fairness come from? Where do we get a sense of what is normal or abnormal? Where do we acquire the knowledge that there is some sort of semblance to this world which has a definite right way of doing things? Is everything simply subjective and are we each defined by our environment, culture, and heritage? This line of thinking sounds solid but does it make sense? For example, have you ever heard of a place in this world where rape, incest or child abuse where openly accepted and popularized? Is there any country that we know of where stealing, murder or treason are looked upon as being subjective actions where a person is never held accountable for such crimes? If these things are inherently wrong, then where did we get the idea which tells us that these behaviors are not acceptable? There are some who say that we just instinctively know what is right and wrong because if the behavior does not benefit society then it is a learned concept handed down from one generation to the next. But do we really believe that an individual who was abandoned and left to grow up on some deserted island would turn out to be a free roaming rapist, murderer or pedophile simply because he or she missed out on the lessons of what benefits society?

    There are those in this world who carry a distorted and contorted view of how things should work but we can clearly point out those behaviors which are considered abnormal. Where do we get these skills in discerning rightness from wrongness? Even small children who have not been exposed to an educational system have this built in code of what is right and wrong. The main point here is that there is something at the core of humanity which serves as some sort of guide and directs our decision making toward a “rightness”.

    The next question has to be then if we do have an internal drive which pushes for rightness as opposed to wrongness then is it just something that is merely conventional which can change with the course of time? Or is this internal drive something more akin to a real truth which never changes regardless of time? From looking back over the course of human history what we know is that this internal drive has always existed and has never changed. Oh sure there have been cultures where torture, slavery and human sacrifices were accepted but these events usually occurred in the name of some religious or social belief system where a group of underclass people were not even considered to be real humans. So if you committed these wrongful crimes on someone you looked upon as more of an animal than a human then of course you could rationalize your behavior. But the reality of the rightness of things has been a core concept which has remained steady and sure over the course of time.

    It is analogous to a carpenter building a home. You don’t simply just grab some nails and a hammer to build a large structure. There are times when you need a hammer and times when you need a saw or drill or whatever. You cannot set up one tool as the tool of tools. There is no wrong or right tool we simply use one specific tool to complete this project and another type tool to finish the job. Our tool box in life, which carries all of our instincts, can only make sense, be constructive and turn into a sound structure if we follow the blue prints with the right tools as set by the carpenter. Tools in the hands of a child or a fool are highly unlikely to produce anything but chaos, confusion and danger. It takes the inner wisdom of this “rightness” to help make sense out of building a life which is forthright, productive and meaningful. If we ignore the carpenters plans and attempt to use whatever tool we wish when we feel like it then we will never accomplish our goal. Without the carpenters plan our life simply has no foundation, structure or meaning. When we step back and look at the completed structure we have been building our entire lives we may find that we have built nothing more than a leaning shack which has been pasted and hammered together by our own desires. If we ignore the plan and do not use the exact tools required we fail, falter and accomplish nothing. What is interesting is that when we do ignore the carpenters plan and go against what we know to be right we often attempt to rationalize or minimize the reasons we chose a different approach when our goals fail. So the basic premise that we are simply the sum of our instincts does not fit into humanity as it does with other species.

    Let me illustrate this phenomenon with a true story. My wife and I have a good friend that we have known since childhood. My wife has continued to stay in touch with this friend over the years and on one summer day our phone rang and my wife answered. I could tell by her demeanor that something was very wrong. She talked a while in a quiet and consoling voice and then hung up. I asked what was going on and she began to tell me of a situation that you would normally only find in a story or movie. Our friend, her husband and their two children had gone to the beach for a summer vacation. One day while they were at the beach a child began calling for help because he was being pulled out by a tide. The drowning child’s father quickly jumped in after his son but he was also pulled under by the tide. So our friend’s husband jumped into the water and saved the boy from drowning. He then went back into the water to save the boy’s father but was unable to get himself and the man out of danger. The boy’s father drowned and our friend’s husband was brought to shore unconscious. He never regained consciousness and the doctors informed our friend that he was brain dead and there needed to be a decision about terminating his life. It was eventually decided that there was no hope of recovery and he later died.

    I tell this story for several reasons. First it is a true story about courage and heroic strength that I personally pray I would have in the same situation. In fact, this story was aired on ABCs 20/20 several months later because the man that drowned was a correspondent of a major news organization. And they aired the story about our friend’s husband and the sacrifice he made to warn people about the dangers of rip tides. However, in relation to our current discussion why is it that a man would be willing to risk his life for others he did not know. Would you say that this was simply his “herd” instinct? It is true that we need our instincts to survive but it’s even more important to know that there is something which helps govern our decisions when acting on these instinctual drives. If we were simply responding to those instincts which are strictly led by nature, then all people would react in the same manner much like we see in the animal kingdom. But above and beyond our instinctual drives is that which serves as a guide which highlights those actions to take in the rightness of any given situation. But humanity, with its gift of free will does not always choose the “right” instinct. If that were the case, that we are simply the sum of our instinctual drives then life itself would follow a predictable pattern from one incident to another. But that is not what we find when we inspect the way we react to life’s threats and dangers. If all of us were simply programed to naturally respond with one kind of choice, regardless of right or wrong, you would assume that all people will react in the same way like wild animals do. But if you try to place this type of reaction into a real life situation this theory quickly falls apart.

    For example, why is it that on that horrible day at the beach when a cry for help was heard that the majority of people simply stood and watched while only a few were willing to risk their own lives. We know that most people that day chose to stay on the safety of the beach. Those who stood by and took pictures or pointed or just looked the other way were not evil individuals. They were simply giving in to the instinct of self-preservation even though their inner core was screaming to do something. And we all know that after the incident happened the majority of those who witnessed this tragedy were inwardly disgusted with themselves because they knew they had not followed what was right. And I bet if anyone had accused them of not doing the right thing that day they would have attempted to come up with some sort of excuse which would admonish them from their actions. Not because they were evil or stupid or dimwitted but because they failed to follow that universal truth which always screams at our inner core for rightness. So simply making the statement that we are the sum of our instincts is too simple of an explanation of why we are driven and compelled toward rightness. There is clearly something we find inside our own selves which has been guiding and directing humanity for centuries. The reality that we are pushed toward that which is right above everything else is not what is in dispute. The real question which demands an answer is who or what is behind this universal drive.

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  4. Andy Ryan says:

    Jeremy, you’re not defending his argument. At best you are making a new argument. How does ‘1+1=2’ qualify as a ‘useful fiction’? What’s fictional about it?

    I don’t agree it’s anything the paragraph you being “True, if…”. You say a few things as if you’re agreeing with me when they’re not things I’ve said, or in fact agree with. Something like “You’d have to agree it depends on a mind, so whose” – no I don’t agree on that, so I don’t need to ask whose.

    You’ll have to clarify exactly what we see in the world we live in would be different, in your mind, if there was no God. In other words, what are you pointing at and saying ‘That’s evidence of God’, and what exactly would that thing look like, in your opinion, if there was no God?. I don’t mean like ‘The Grand Canyon’ or ‘The human eye’ – I mean with regards to this number thing you’re talking about. How is God affecting numbers such that you see maths as being evidence of God? How would maths be different in his absence – what would you expect to see that you are not seeing? Or what are you seeing exactly that you wouldn’t expect to see in a Godless universe?

    Reply
  5. Andy Ryan says:

    Jeremy, you’re not defending his argument. At best you are making a new argument. How does ‘1+1=2′ qualify as a ‘useful fiction’? What’s fictional about it?

    I don’t agree it’s anything the paragraph you being “True, if…”. You say a few things as if you’re agreeing with me when they’re not things I’ve said, or in fact agree with. Something like “You’d have to agree it depends on a mind, so whose” – no I don’t agree on that, so I don’t need to ask whose.

    You’ll have to clarify exactly what we see in the world we live in would be different, in your mind, if there was no God. In other words, what are you pointing at and saying ‘That’s evidence of God’, and what exactly would that thing look like, in your opinion, if there was no God?. I don’t mean like ‘The Grand Canyon’ or ‘The human eye’ – I mean with regards to this number thing you’re talking about. How is God affecting numbers such that you see maths as being evidence of God? How would maths be different in his absence – what would you expect to see that you are not seeing? Or what are you seeing exactly that you wouldn’t expect to see in a Godless universe?

    Reply

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